Friday, October 17, 2008

banjo camp!

A new book just came out for all you future (and present) banjo players! Banjo Camp is part instruction, part history, and part backstage pass to the modern world of this old time instrument. It comes with a CD, which is full of examples and recordings. So not only do you get a written introduction to the world of banjos, you get to hear the lessons (very very important for beginners learning without a teacher.) I'm really excited about this book. I flipped through it at our local bookstore and wanted to take it home (but I think the cover price was already allocated to fresh straw bedding.) Anyway, it looks like a light and rustic introduction to the bluegrass banjo and if you're considering getting that twang in your hands I'd invest in this and then head over to banjohut.com and take home one of those Morgan Monroe Hobos I've been drooling over. (Notice that banjo comes with a Native Ground book, because they are awesome)

All this kinda breaks my heart since I'm currently banjoless. I sold my old one because it was the wrong type for the music I play (it was a big heavy resonator banjo, not an open back for old time clawhammer flailing) And now I just wish I could pick one up and play it. Alas, I can't afford a $280 splurge. But I'll start saving up for one. I'll need it come winter when the music really fills up the cabin and practice gets serious! What else is there to do when you're snowed in and you read all your books?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

thank you

I want to take a moment to thank the people who have been silently donating to the farm. A few weeks ago I placed that donation button on the right hand side of the blog, and people have been throwing their pennies in my jar. Thanks to the help of the Cold Antler Farm community trains run on time here. Anything that doesn't go to feed and winterizing the farm goes into a small savings fund for that farmhouse I someday pray I will own. So thanks so much, it really really helps.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

a girl and her wethers

I am getting attached to my boys, Sal and Marvin. I didn't expect this, to get to know the sheep as individuals. I suppose this would never happen on a larger scale farm with pasture born lambs, but this isn't a large scale farm. Here at Cold Antler I currently only have three sheep. Since I'm not training a border collie on them yet (and they haven't the fear of god in them) they are happy to be around me. I've actually come to know them pretty well.

Sal's the most gregarious. He will trot right up to the gate and let you grab his ears, scratch his head, pat him. I give him daily updates on the state of the economy, the presidential race, this and that. He always seems genuinely interested (However I'm pretty sure it's because I'm holding second cut hay in my arms when I tell him all this.) Marvin is just as friendly, but much less interested in socializing with me as he is with his flock. He is always always baaing at Sal and Maude. He walks between them and brushes up against them. He's ridiculously trusting of me. When I bend down to tie a boot or open a latch to let them out to pasture he always is right there, his head inches from my face. I scratch his ears. He's a good boy.

Maude's still a jerk.

photo by sara stell

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

the great fall weekend - part 2

After Saturday's adventures, all five of us just wanted to relax. We came back to the cabin worn out. Jazz and Annie immediately collapsed on their respected bed and couch spots, and us people pretty much did the same. When we were recouped we headed into town to a local tavern, The Perfect Wife, for dinner. We came home to a warm fireplace and watched Songcatcher (a must see movie for mountain music lovers.)

Sunday morning I slept in (till 7 AM!) and even had help with morning chores. After the animals were fed, watered, lead to pasture, and given fresh bedding we came inside to bake a quiche for breakfast. Using my garden's stored veggies (save for the broccoli, which we tried but didn't freeze well and tasted like pet dander) fresh farm eggs, and Vermont cheese we made big ol' egg pie and washed it down with lots of coffee. Now that's a meal.

We decided to go for a long walk, and took a three mile stroll along Sandgate's dirt roads. It's peak foliage season here, and I was happy the girls could visit me at this time and see how colorful it is up in the hollow. Walks like these remind me why I returned to the Northeast. There is no fall like a New England Fall. The colors get into your lungs, make you breath differently. The cold crispness of waking up and seeing your breathe, walking past pumpkins and piles of hay when you leave for work. Little things. I need those things. Jazz and Annie seem to glide over the crunchy leaves like corporeal ghosts.

Well, that was the end of our fun for a while. I needed to trim the sheep's hooves. This went badly.

Badly, but not horrible. Every time I have shepherd work to do I realize none of it will be as easy as the books and pictures show. I was only able to trim one sheep's feet because only one sheep would let me get within flipping distance with hoof shears. Soon as I got Marvin down (which was more of a pathetic wrestle than professional shepherd's flip) Sal and Maude scampered away and watched in muted horror from across the pasture. No bribery could get them near me after Marvin was upright again. So I'll need to figure out some stealth tactics for Sal, and a goddamn miracle to get my hands on Maude. But still, one wether has trimmed feet. A modest victory.

The rest of the weekend ended with a trip into Manchester to putz around town and then a pasta dinner with friends of Sara Mack's who happened to be hiking nearby for the holiday weekend. They came in showered, but mountain weary and we spent the night talking and drinking in good company. I think I may have even made a new dulcimer player out of kathleen, who was very taken by the weird instrument in her lap.

And that's the rest of a very good, but very long weekend. I think it set a lot of things in motion. And time will tell how they all play out. But stay tuned, and you'll hear the whole story. Promise.

photos, again, by sara stell

Monday, October 13, 2008

saturday photos






photos by sara stell

the great fall weekend - part 1

The Sara's showed up on a calm Friday night. They had traveled up to my hollow all the way from Suburban Philadelphia. I set a glowing jack-o-lantern out by the oak trees near the driveway to be their initial greeter. When they came inside I had a fire glowing, fresh-from-the-oven pumpkin bread, and hot tea and cider on call. I felt like I would be asking a lot from them this weekend, and wanted to make it as hospitable as possible. We'd be getting up at 5 AM for the trials and after along day on the road, that's not great news for any guest.

But they were more than graceful. After a light tour of the farm and some unpacking we were all around the fire sipping hot drinks and talking. Sara Stell, as it turns out, isn't just my old college pal's co-worker, she's a violin instructor. She brought her beautiful violin (made in 1894) and played the most beautiful rendition of Ashokan Farewell I've ever heard live. She let me give it a whirl and I played some dirty fiddle music on it. She was kind enough to compliment my homegrown education. Which burst me up with quiet pride. It was a fine evening.

In the morning all five of us headed to the trial. Three humans and two dogs in the hay truck (my Subaru.) I was fairly proud of the fact we were on the road by 6:30, and after a brief stop at Wayside for pumpkin coffee, we hit the road. I'm glad to report we were in Cooperstown before most of the spectators even pulled in. After setting up our folding chairs and scoping out our coffee options - I left the girls to watch the dogs run while I wandered off to meet up with shepherds I knew. I ran into Barb and Denise and soon we were talking about the newsletter (my new job) and Sarah, the sheepdog in need of a shepherd. Barb told me Sarah would be here in a few minutes and I should meet her, look over her papers (ABCA), and walk around with her.

And walk around with her I did. And it was great. Sarah was a petite 30-pound sprite of a Border Collie. For someone who walks a 130 pounds of sled dog with one arm, it felt like I was holding a kitten on a line. She was gentle and quiet with me, but her focus was 100% of the sheep in the field. Barb has been training her on fleece for a few months and when we walked on her thin leather leash around the trial field she trotted with her eyes always on the prize, her tail low, her eyes fixed. She was a beauty. Had I the means, I would've scooped her up and taken her back to Cold Antler to teach Maude a thing or two about R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Alas, not today.

Now let me tell you something dear readers, this truly was a sadistic weekend. I played a fiddle from the 1800's and held the lead of a Border Collie who's grandparents were imported from the UK and who's refined working-dog lineage had won high trials overseas. These two beautiful things I had to relinquish to their proper owners when I left. People commented below and asked if I took Sarah home. I didn't. A dog like Sarah isn't just handed off to people and would cost a small fortune (a small fortune for me anyway, probably equal to the going rate of a fiddle from 1894!) So no, she's not my dog. Sarah is right now in a kennel in a barn in upstate New York, and not playing Parcheesi with Jazz and Annie back at the cabin.

After time spent with Sarah, and the Saras, I was put to work. I jumped into a pickup truck with Warren Mick and we both worked the sheep pens and talked about the trials. I think I have learned more about sheepherding while wrestling with ewes in these pens than I have anywhere or anyhow else! The questions you can ask people are endless, and the whole trial is sprawled out before you to comment on. The advice and answerer are well worth the occasional black and blue mark from a bossy ewe's horns.

I spent the day with good friends. I got to be outside on that amazing fall day talking herding and sheep. I grabbed Scottish Blackface ewes by the horns and touched the black fur of working dog in my own arms. All of this writhing with hope. I'm wrestling with a lot right now. Trying to decide what's next and how I'll get this farm of my own someday. I'm nervous about the book, and how it will do. And I'm worried somehow this will all slip though my fingers and get away from me, like a leash could slip from idle hands on a runaway dog. That I'll end up settling for less because it's safer, or because it gets people off my back. I don't know if I can pull this all off on my own. Everyone keeps telling me I can't. Not without a miracle, an inheritance or pa perfect credit score that is. But I really think I can with a good dog, and some great faith. Or that's what I keep telling myself. When I waiver I just clutch the black fur tighter and say a prayer.

All of it paces in my head when I go to bed at night. I'm just grateful that come morning there is too much to do here at the farm to keep thinking about it. But the uncertainty is exciting, if nothing else. If nothing else, it's that.

p.s. More photos to follow later this evening. Photo of me and Sarah above taken by Sara Mack

Sunday, October 12, 2008

two shepherds

This has been an amazing weekend. I can't wait to write more about it. The weather has been ideal, the roadtrips long and winding, and the Fall Folliage Trial was a great learning experience with breathtaking New England fall news. Sara and Sara have been enjoying the trip as well. (They even helped me with some farm chores!) One of the Sara's is an amazing photographer and I'll post her work from the weekend later tonight. But for now here's a picture of Sarah the sheepdog and I. Barb Armata brought her for me to meet, walk around the trial with, and consider. I'm not going to lie, walking around the trial with a working sheepdog was a hell of a feeling.
photo by Sara Stell